Sunday, April 13, 2014

Out & About: Exhibits - Impressionists, in Private

It’s Sunday, and the sun is out and the wind isn’t, both of which are a welcome change.  There’s an opportunity here that needs to be seized.  So it’s carpe diem for me.
     Now Me has seen a lot of Impressionist exhibits.  They usually include works on loan from other museums around the globe.  But this show is different.  These canvases come from private collections and may never have been in the same city or even the same country before, let alone the same room!
     That room needs to include me.  So out comes the Métro pass - three different Métro lines, two changes, a bit under one hour - and I’m off.

Voilier dans le port de Honfleur - Johan Barthold Jongkind

Going to this small museum while others are enjoying Sunday dinner is a good idea.  And yet the guard still lets us in only in clusters so people will have room to enjoy the artwork.  At least the line is indoors.  As I wait near the head of it, my eyes are drawn to the very first painting, Voilier dans le port de Honfleur by Jongkind.  It will end up being my favorite, maybe because of the time I got to spend with it but also because of Jongkind’s mastery of light on water, which to my mind is one of the hardest things to get right in all of art. He also got the luminosity of the sky right.  Not to mention all those different shades of blue, even reflected in the sails, so I’ll be awarding him both ears and the tail.
     As this museum was once a mansion, the art is hung throughout a series of rooms.  That’s very fitting because every one of the hundred-odd masterpieces - canvases, drawings, sculptures - came from private homes.  Fifty homes, to be exact, located around the world - in France, Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain, Mexico and the United States.
Le Moineau, Eva Gonzalès
     This show is intended to trace the evolution of Impressionism through works that haven’t been seen often, if at all.  And the show’s cast of artists is absolutely mind-boggling:  Corot, Boudin, Jongkind, Manet, Bazille, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Sisley, Caillebotte, Morisot, Guillaumin, Cézanne, Rodin, and even an American, Mary Cassatt, plus an Impressionist I haven’t heard of before, Eva Gonzalès.  Three women in all.  Not such a bad score for those stodgy old days.
     The exhibit is chronological rather than organized by artist, although there’s some of that as well because of the dates.  The first room, the one with the Jongkind I enjoyed so much, focuses on what it calls the roots of Impressionism.  The newborn style can be seen in a few Corots, who was one of the precursors of Impressionism, as well as a Manet - The Bar at the Folies-Bergères.  And there are several works by Boudin, who inspired Monet so deeply.  Boudin concentrated his artistic skills on maritime scenes, and they range from an overcast view of The Port of Bordeaux - all in greys and browns - to the sunny pastel blues of The Beach at Bénerville.  There are also aquarelles of Three Breton Washerwomen, in various tones of grey, and of people on The Beach in Trouville, which looks like a draft for an oil I saw in another exhibit last year.  In fact there are several paintings that look familiar because artists often do several takes of the same subject, like Monet’s seafront in Normandy, a relative of which is hanging at the Musée d’Orsay.
     As you walk through the rooms, Impressionism spreads its wings from these beginnings.  That’s especially clear with Cézanne’s works that morph from his low-key Geraniums in 1873 to his then-scandalous men stripping down for a skinny-dip in 1897.  All styles of Impressionism are covered here, all the way to Sisley, so there’s something for everyone.
Caricature by Monet
   Among all of it, two things stand out for me.  The first is Monet’s drawings.  That’s what brought him to Boudin’s attention, especially as they were done when he was only 17.  Half of them are just penciled sketches - many of women in traditional Norman dress - and the other half are caricatures.  Those are the ones I like the most.  They remind me of the political caricatures at the Musée d’Orsay done by Daumier.
     The other wonderful reward is the number of works by one of my all-time favorites, Gustave Caillebotte.  At age 34, he gave up showing his artwork and concentrated on his garden and on building and racing sailboats, a fact I serendipidously learned on last week’s trip to visit my naval architect friend in southwest France.  Most Caillebotte paintings that I’ve seen elsewhere were street scenes of Paris.  It’s fascinating here to see him painting flowers instead - one of sunflowers (precursor of van Gogh?) and one of dahlias in a suburban garden, complete with a woman and her little dog, too, off there in the background... all dappled in shadows, as Monet after him would do.
     The Marmottan’s write-up of the exhibit says there are about a dozen works by most every artist bridging his or her entire career.  It also says the museum saved the best for last.  But as I don’t enjoy Renoir very much, in spite of the fact that he once lived in the house at my corner in Montmartre, his paintings don’t “talk” to me.  Something about his excessive use of rosy pinks.  It’s interesting though to see them because they include a portrait of Renoir’s wife that has never been on exhibit before anywhere.  That alone makes it special.
Geraniums, Paul Cézanne
     Oh, and there are two sculptures also.  One of them - Degas’ Little Dancer - I thought was on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, but this must be her twin sister: same hands behind her back, toes out, eyes slit, chin jutting, little pointed nose in the air, all made more real by her tutu of tulle and an actual pink ribbon holding her bronze hair back.  The other sculpture is one of many terra cotta studies Rodin must have made of The Thinker before he cast the ones in bronze that sit outside both Rodin Museums, one in Paris and its brother in Philadelphia.
     How amazing to see all these masterpieces gathered together in one place!  There are stories here, I’m sure, tales of people who saw these canvases and just had to have them, recognizing this new way of painting for what it was:  a personal view of the world, a view that spoke to them.

Aside from this ground floor exhibit, there are plenty of other things to see at the Marmottan.  Downstairs is their permanent collection of Impressionists (mainly Monet), except for the Berthe Morisots which are upstairs.  Also upstairs is the museum’s huge collection of enluminures.  Those enamored of Napoleon Bonaparte will enjoy the collection of art and furniture from the First Empire.  Something for everyone at this Little Museum That Could.  Yes, it’s off the beaten track.  But well worth the trip.

Les Impressionnistes en privé

Until July 6, 2014

10€, 5€

Musée Marmottan Monet

2, rue Louis Boilly
Paris 16è
Métro:  La Muette

Open Tuesday- Sunday 10 to 6
Thursdays open until 8 pm

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Recipe of the month: rougets à la crème d'olives

On April Fool’s Day in France, the traditional prank is to tape a paper fish, a poisson d’avril, on someone’s back.  Without them knowing, of course, otherwise it’s not funny.  As my French chef friend Brigitte explained in her recipe this week, “This tradition dates from the 16th century when [King] Charles IX adopted the Gregorian calendar ... making New Year’s [Day] on January 1st instead of April 1st.  People who did not follow the new calendar were called “fools” and were played tricks on.  Some believe the connection with the fish is related to the sun leaving the zodiacal sign of Pisces.”
Whatever the reason, I’m ready to be made a fool if it means it’s no longer March.
March came in like a lion and is leaving like a lamb (lamb for Easter, yum!), along with the snow, which is slowly melting.  We’ll all be glad to see the behind of it.  We’re ready for April, in spite of the rains it usually brings:  April showers, / bring May flowers / and kids cooped up in the house for hours!

In honor of April Fool’s Day and its legendary poisson d’avril, as well as because it’s still Lent for the Christians among us, here’s a recipe I stole from chef Philippe DaSilva (and yes, that was once a Portuguese name but he really is French):  rougets à la crème d’olives - red mullet with olive cream.  It should please the fish lovers among you, is fairly easy and quick to cook, and requires few ingredients.
You can substitute any mild-tasting fish - perch, tilapia, flounder, orange roughy - for the red mullet; it’s a common fish in the Mediterranean, but not equally elsewhere.  Get the fish monger to fillet it for you, or you can even use frozen, provided you dry it well before cooking.
Other substitutes:  You can use oregano instead of marjoram if it’s more handy; after all, they’re related.  (I had to use thyme for the photo.)  If you don’t want to remove the stems from the spinach, buy baby spinach.  And if you really can’t abide spinach, try some thinly sliced zucchini instead.
The garlic-on-a-fork trick is good for those who enjoy the flavor but don’t want to actually eat it.
So happy April, happy Easter, and happy no more snow.

20 small green pitted olives
1 c (25 cl) heavy cream
olive oil
7 oz (200 g) spinach, washed and stems removed (or frozen, if pressed for time)
4 red mullet fillets
salt & pepper
clove of garlic

- Heat the cream without letting it come to a boil.  Add the olives and continue warming for 2-3 minutes.
- Put the cream, olives and 2T of olive oil in a blender/food processor.  Blend well.  Add salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the olives may already be salty.  Keep this cream warm (for instance in a double-boiler).
- After drying the spinach (a salad spinner works well here), heat the leaves in some olive oil.  Spear a clove of garlic on a fork and stir the spinach as it cooks.  When all the spinach leaves have wilted, strain them.
- Salt and pepper the mullet fillets.  Sauté them in some olive oil, skin side first.  (That prevents them from curling up.)  When they’re crisp, flip them over gently and put a few leaves of marjoram on top.  When the second side is crisp, flip it over once more for just about half a minute.
- Spread the spinach out on a serving platter, leaving some space at the edges for the cream.  Place the fillets on top.  Pour the olive cream around the edges and serve immediately.

Accompany with a light, crisp white or rosé wine.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

On the Road - Toulouse, la ville rose

Say “Toulouse” and most people think “Airbus”.
     Partially because of that, it’s now the fourth largest city in France (after Paris, Lyon and Marseille, in that order).  It’s the center of the country’s aerospace industry, the place where the Galileo spacecraft’s positioning system was developed, as well as the Ariane rocket, and it’s the headquarters of France’s section of the European Space Agency.
     As futuristic as all that sounds, Toulouse is also home to one of Europe’s oldest universities (founded in 1229), which gives the city deep roots.
     Until the Revolution, France was broken up into provinces.  Languedoc was one of them, and Toulouse was its capital, so the city is not a newcomer.  Even before that, the Romans built it up from a mere military outpost into a city.  When the Visigoths overran them, it became their regional capital.  And when the Franks in turn took over from them, it became their capital.  Its location on the Garonne River probably enhanced its attractiveness.
     Under the empire set up by Charlemagne, regions were given considerable political leeway. Toulouse took full advantage of that, and its Count became rich and powerful.  But with the Cathar uprising, Toulouse entered into conflict with France’s king, and the city finally was forced to become part of the realm under the Treaty of Paris in 1229, the same year the university was founded.
     So much for history.

Toulouse is called la ville rose, the pink city because it’s built of adobe-style red bricks that glow pink in the setting sun.  I’ve been there three times already, but always only in passing.  Once overnight for my daughter’s national gym competition, when I flew down to surprise her - so I got to see the sports complex.  Once again overnight, passing through in the car of a friend who was in a hurry to get somewhere else - so all I got to see was one arcaded square where the hotel and restaurant were located.  And once more after visiting Albi, when I had programmed four hours to look around at last... but it was bitterly cold for the season and I was gloveless and not dressed for it - so I took an earlier train back to Paris and only got to see the train station and have a cup of tea in the café across the way.
     Not very exciting, given all that’s on offer.
     This time I’m going to do it though.  This time I’ve traveled down just for that.  (Well, that and to see my old friend who also finds the situation unacceptable and has volunteered to be my guide.)  This time it’s February, but I have gloves and a Michigan-winter coat and boots.  In short, I have The Right Stuff!

We start off with the Basilica of St. Sernin, because it’s the largest romanesque church in Europe.  It’s been around since Charlemagne, who gave it some relics... and that turned it into a stop on the pilgrim’s road to Compostella.  Daniel takes me to a side door, which just happens to be the one that has Saint James (of Compostella) carved in stone right overhead.  The inside is vast, and hints at what Gothic churches will become. The columns are there, but there isn’t the light that Gothic engineering tricks already being developed will shortly afford.  The windows are also much smaller than they will become in Gothic churches.  And yet this romanesque church  impresses by its sheer size.
St. James
Outside, as I try to take a photo of it all, a gypsy woman comes by and pulls The Ring Trick.  It goes like this.  She picks up a gold ring (which she has previously dropped there), holds it out and expects a reward.  (This woman said “Good luck”, probably because only English-speaking people wear grape-colored coats.)  It’s a relatively new trick but someone already tried it on me in the Tuileries Garden last fall, so I just laugh at her, tell her she must be kidding (in French) and she goes away.
     Next stop is Notre-Dame du Taur, a brick church with the typical flat fronton of the region.  This is where the first university started, run by Jacobins, and it’s all that’s left of the convent complex. Unfortunately - perhaps - it’s lunchtime and the doors are locked.

Lunchtime is something my friend-and-guide approves highly of, as do I, and he escorts me down a side street to lunch at Old Man Louis’s.  It’s an old-style bistro called Au Père Louis, where we are greeted warmly.  The front room being half of the fun, the only seats left are at the bar, so we sit on our stools and watch the regulars over a glass of something Père Louis seems to have invented - or at least mastered:  quinquina, sweet but not too, and syrupy thick, unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted.
     The waiter/barman tries to talk Daniel into ordering just one cold meat plate to share instead of two, but to no avail.  When they arrive, it’s obvious to me that there are going to be no “afters”, and that Daniel alone will be tucking into a second course. And that lovely meringued lemon tart is definitely out of the question.
  It takes me two courses to get through my “appetizer” alone:  two types of ham (cured  and dried), French salami, a huge hunk of pork pâté and the miraculous rillettes d’oie, a moist, spreadable, richer-than-rich pâté of shredded goose that is one of the wonders of France.   (Be advised: pickles do not come with cold meats here, as they do elsewhere in France.)  And all this - two plates, a main course, a bottle of wine and that Quinquina apéritif - for a third of the price such a feast would cost in Paris. Unbelievable.  And unbelievably delicious.

We waddle out and down the street to the Hôtel d’Assézat, which, as its name does not indicate is not a hotel.  Hôtel in French also means a private home of the mansion sort.  Which this once was.  My 1980 Michelin Guide Vert told me this was the most beautiful private building in Toulouse, and I’m sure it’s right.  It also told me you couldn’t visit the interior, and that if I wanted a wonderful view of the roofs of old Toulouse I should ring the doorbell and ask the concierge for the key.
     Well, guess what.  We’re not in Kansas any more Toto; we’re in 2014 and a lot of Garonne has flowed under the bridge.  It turns out this 16th c building is now a museum for a collection left to the city by a rich Argentine of German ancestry but raised in France.  Shortly after my Guide Vert went to the editors, George Bemberg, having no heirs, decided to leave his humongous art collection to a French city.  Paris played finicky; so did some other cities.  Then Toulouse raised its hand and walked off with the prize, totally refurbishing this building as a showcase for Bemberg’s collection.
Bonnard, self-portrait
      Room after room is filled with wonders.  But the cherry on the cake is Number XII:  the Bonnard Room.  I think this must be the largest collection in the world of works by Pierre Bonnard, including two self-portraits, and it runs the gamut from the Nabi days to his death.
     We easily spend well over an hour in the museum.  There’s way too much to see in one trip, so I guess I’m going to have to go back.  (As for the tower, no one is allowed up in it any more, and believe me, I wheedled and pleaded.)

We head down to the Garonne River close by, to a square from which river tours usually leave, except that work is underway to salvage a tour boat that has sunk. That was fun for a while, in spite of my naval architect friend telling me they were doing it “in a very strange way” - and I’m sure he’s right.  It gave me time to enjoy the beauty of the Pont Neuf bridge and the many students walking hand-in-hand.  (The art school and a high school are nearby).  We take a page from their book and stop at a café for a cup of something before heading home.
     On the way back to the car, we again cross the main square of Toulouse, the Place du Capitole.  The market that was there all morning has gone home, leaving the square looking even bigger than before, and all for pedestrians.  The bronze croix du Languedoc - Occitan cross - in the pavement shines golden in the setting sun.  Every sign on this square is golden, to give it a harmony... even the Golden Arches of McDonald’s are indeed golden here and not that awful yellow.
     We detour into the Capitole itself, the city hall, elegant within its brick-and-stone walls.  Frescos are everywhere and we go up the majestic stairway to see the salon where happy couples from Toulouse are married by the mayor.  The view of the square below is even more striking from up here.
     Then it’s back to the car, walking past the dungeon behind City Hall... all that’s left of the old 16th c Capitole.  Night is falling.  It’s dark before we get back to Saint Antonin Noble Val, with cheese from an amazing shop along the way.  My guide has been excellent, but I know I’ll have to come back again to la ville rose.  I’ve just scratched the surface of what Toulouse has to offer.
     Not to mention another meal at Père Louis!

Jazzy singer Claude Nougaro wrote a song about his native Toulouse, which he loved dearly.  Here it is, complete with a video show:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Out & About: Exhibits - Brassaï: For the Love of Paris

Brassaï show at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris

Les Escaliers de Montmartre
When I moved to my new place in Montmartre in 2005, a dear old friend gave me a housewarming present.  It was a print of Brassaï's iconic photo of Montmartre stairs in the mist. They are the stairs that loomed right across from my home of 27 years.  It was her way of helping me bridge the gap and close the wound of what had been a heart-breaking exile of several years.
     I always thought Brassaï was French, in spite of his name.  Because there are many foreign-sounding names in France, the result of waves of refugees:  Poles in the coal country of the north, Spaniards in the Pyrenees region, Italians on the Riviera, Germans in Alsace...  France has long been a terre de refuge, a safe haven for those fleeing the persecution or penury of their native lands.  And then there are all those names which arrived because of France’s colonial empire, names from southeast Asia and from both north and sub-Saharan Africa.  So a name like Brassaï...
     Actually Brassaï’s name was Gyula Halasz and he was born in 1899 in Transylvania (thus his fascination with the night?), which was then within the kingdom of Hungary but is now part of Romania.  His parents took him to Paris when he was only three and they lived there for one year.  That set indelible memories in his young brain.  It would take until age 25 for him to return to the French capital and by that time he’d studied art in Berlin for four years.
     Brassaï was always a bit different.  For instance, to learn French, he read Proust, one of the most difficult - and grammatically long-winded - of all French novelists.  Not an easy primer, but one that brought back images of that childhood year in Paris and set the tone for what he later called “latent images”, the theme of his photography.  I suspect he picked up more functional French from the artist colony in Montparnasse, where he settled.  Brassaï made Paris his home for the rest of his life.  And even thereafter, as he’s buried in the Cimetière de Montparnasse.

The show - Brassaï:  For the Love of Paris - is divided up into rooms for his different... well, maybe fascinations is more the word, rather than themes.  There’s one room for photos of the wall graffiti that he loved to note down in a little book during his night walks.  There’s another for the artists he frequented, including his dear friend Picasso, but also Henry Miller and Salvador Dali.
     Another room or two focus on night life, be it night clubs, dance halls or the ladies of the night.  It was interesting to see some of the same faces in different photos.  These were obviously haunts of his.  It’s somewhat strange that most of Brassaï’s photos of The City of Light are night shots.  But that was what fascinated him, and made the play of light on dark stand out the most.
     Brassaï made one film, a short feature called Tant qu’il y aura des bêtes (As Long As There Are Animals), which won an award for originality at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956.  That film, shot at the Paris Zoo, is playing in yet another room.
     The last part of the exhibit is the long gallery, filled with a mix of his photos.
     The entire show gives an excellent review of the “stolen moments” this lover of Paris found as he walked through his city of adoption.  It’s a Paris that, for the most part, has disappeared and it’s refreshing to see that little child fascinated by a cloud of balloons and the bookseller with the white reflections on his spectacles.  It was the same city, but another time.

Brassaï - For the love of Paris

Hôtel de Ville
5 rue de Lobau
75004 - Paris

Métro:  Hôtel de Ville

until March 29, 2014


Monday - Saturday, 10 am - 7 pm
Closed Sundays

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Recipe of the Month: Fondue Savoyarde

(Funny, I ran this recipe on my website in March of 2007 and wrote back then about “finger-numbing” weather.  That was pre- this 2014 Winter of the Polar Vortex, which has broken records for cold and snow.  So in my rewrite I've left that part in, seeing as it was still/again appropriate.)

March is usually a time of melting.  Melting snow, mainly in Michigan and the rest of the northern United States, where I spend the non-France part of my life.
     Although it's not so melty this year.  And after the snow starting at the crack of December, followed by a finger-numbing January and February, a lot of melt will be required!  Still, it seems logical that March should be the month of fondue.
     The word “fondue” comes from the French “fondre”, which means to melt.  And there will be a lot of melting before you can dig in.  Or rather dip in.
     In France, there is fondue bourguignonne (with meat) or fondue savoyarde (with cheese).  Savoie was an independent region annexed by France in 1860, which is very recent on the European history scale.  It’s in the Alps, near Switzerland.  Thus the cheese.
     The Swiss used fondue as a way to make it through the winter on little money, stale bread and hardened cheese.  Now it’s become a pretext for a fun party, because anyone who loses his or her crust of bread in the cheese will have to a) buy the next bottle of wine, b) kiss his/her partner, or c) perform a “trick” such as singing a song or telling a joke.  Plus just generally get teased a whole lot.

Fondue involves few ingredients, so the choice of the wine and the cheese is of vital importance.  The wine must be a light and dry white, such as a Neuchâtel, Rhine, Riesling or Chablis.  The cheese is traditionally Emmentaler and/or Gruyère.  Fondue made with only Emmentaler is mildest, both together is a bit stronger, and well-aged Gruyère alone has the strongest flavor.
     In preparation, cut up some hard-crust French-style bread, leaving at least one side of crust (or better yet two) because if you lose your bread... well, see above.  The drier the bread, the better, so if you have a lot of bread left over from a party, this is an excellent opportunity to use it up. Remember:  the Swiss dunked their bread because they weren’t wasteful.  How do you think the country got so rich?
     Kirsch (cherry brandy) is the traditional Swiss choice of brandy for a fondue savoyarde.  You can use cognac, light white rum or even hard cider.  Or maybe a Poire William pear brandy from Alsace, another French region.  But kirsch is the real deal, and marries best with the cheeses.
      Utensil:  For cheese fondue, you use an earthenware pot, called a caquelon (pronounced “kah - keh - lo”). Metal fondue pots are for the hot oil of meat fondue.
     Unlike fondue bourguignonne, where you just put in your fork and leave it until the meat is done to your liking, with cheese fondue you have to go one at a time, so arm yourself with patience.  More time for conversation.  Besides, if several people have a go at the same time, someone could knock someone else’s bread off, and that’s sabotage (again, see above).  So one at a time, please, and making a figure-8 motion so that you get the most cheese possible and stir the molten cheese at the same time.  (Remember, the Swiss are famous for precision:  watches and such.)
     At the end you’ll have a rich brown crust on the bottom of the caquelon.  This is considered “the best part” and it can either be divided up or awarded to the one who didn’t lose their bread.

  • 1 lb of “Swiss” cheese
  • 2 c white wine
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 2 or 3 T kirsch, or other brandy/cognac
  • a dash of nutmeg
  • salt & pepper
  • clove of garlic
  • crusty bread

- Cut the cheese into very small pieces.  It will melt more smoothly than if you grate it, and be more flavorful.
- Warm the white wine over direct low heat until air bubbles start to rise to the surface.  NEVER BOIL THE WINE!
- Right away start adding the cheese, a handful at a time, and stir with a wooden spoon.  And stir.  And stir.  Until the cheese is melted.  Then add another handful.  And stir.
- When all the cheese is melted, add the cornstarch diluted in the brandy.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible).

- Cut a large clove of garlic in half and thoroughly rub the inside of a round earthenware pot (caquelon) for an added layer of flavor.  Pour the cheese fondue into the caquelon and light it up.  Use a sterno or other type of fuel heat; candles won’t keep the cheese warm enough.

- Should the cheese get too thick, stir in a little wine.  If it separates or gets lumpy, put it back on the burner, stir in ½ t of cornstarch diluted in a bit of warm wine and blend it in with a wire whisk.

- Now grab a fondue fork, spear yourself a crust of bread and start figure-eighting in the cheese.  Remember: the cheese will be very hot, so just blow on it a bit before you pop it into your mouth.  Plus that gives the others a chance to dip.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Out & About: Exhibits - Cartier: Le style et l'histoire

For all you ladies out there - and you gentlemen who enjoy a handicraft well executed - here’s a brief trip through the history of the famed jeweler, Cartier.
     When I got to Paris this time, I had to renew my press card.  And that office is near the Grand Palais, which seems to always have at least one show at any given moment that’s fascinating. Here I had a choice between the photos of Raymond Depardon and the jewels of Cartier. Like Robert Frost in his “Road Not Taken”, I didn’t have enough time to “travel both” so I chose Cartier and kept Depardon “for another day”... which ended up never coming, as Frost already knew, because “way leads on to way” and it closed before I got back to it.

Daisy Fellowes
Built for the Universal Exposition of 1900, the Grand Palais owes its longevity to its vastness, which makes it perfect for art exhibits.  There are often as many as three running at one time.
     “Cartier - Style and History” is small by Grand Palais standards.  It takes up just part of one level: the Salon d’Honneur.  But what it lacks in size it makes up for in sparkle.
     As jewels are small, compared to canvases, over 600 pieces are on display.  That’s just a smattering of all the creations that built Cartier’s reputation as “jeweler to kings”.  And queens.  And the wealthy.
Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor
     Its various shops around the world have filled the hunger for glitter of generations.  In addition to New York, Cartier set up a shop in Russia, but unfortunately only a short time before the Revolution sent its clients fleeing for their lives... many of them to Paris - where they were conveniently closer to the store on rue de la Paix - but perhaps without the funds to buy as much as before.  Luckily India’s rajahs - or rather ranees - were also excellent customers.
Cigarette case
     Stretching back to its birth in Paris in 1847, Cartier has worked its magic not only in jewelry but also in the decorative arts.  All facets of its craftsmanship are on display here, and all the styles they have followed (or defined!) over the generations, from the founder Louis-François to son Alfred and on to grandsons Pierre, Louis and Jacques.  Cartier’s jewelry has evolved in tune with fashion, from the curves of the Belle Epoque to the straight lines of the Roaring Twenties to the animal fantasies that followed.
     For instance, did you know that Art Déco owes a lot to Cartier? Or that Cartier invented the men’s wristwatch?  Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont complained that fob watches weren’t practical when flying up in the air, so his friend Louis invented the Santos.
     In addition to the wristwatch, these showcases are gorged with the jewels of some of the world’s most famous women.  Kate Middleton wore a Cartier tiara on her wedding day.  And of course Liz Taylor, wearing the huge diamond Richard Burton bought for her.  French poet cum playwright cum filmmaker Jean Cocteau called upon Cartier to bejewel him a ceremonial sword for his entry into the illustrious Académie Française.
Princess Grace's tiara

     The beloved Princess Grace of Monaco has an entire showcase, complete with her official portrait wearing the jewels you can see to the left and right.  Prior to Grace came the infamous American divorcee Wallis Simpson, by whom scandal arrived in the United Kingdom when she told King Edward VIII to choose between her and the throne.  He abdicated.  And she got a showcase full of Cartier “trinkets”, including the jeweler’s trademark panther.
     Among the lesser-knowns included in this show is Daisy Fellowes, who inherited Grandpa Singer’s sewing machine fortune and seems to have spent a good deal of it chez Cartier.
Mexican actress Maria Felix
     For the history buffs among you, written documents and photographs from the archives give a more complete, in-depth view of the history of the famous jeweler.
     Although the Cartier dynasty’s control ended in 1972, the generations of jewelers who worked their magic are on view in Paris, where it all started.

There’s a half-hour video about the show.  It’s in French but there are subtitles in English.  And visuals.  Lots and lots of visuals.

Cartier - Le style et l’histoire

Grand Palais
3 avenue du Général-Eisenhower
75008 - Paris
Métro:  Champs-Elysées - Clemenceau

until February 16, 2014

12€ & 9€

Daily except Tuesdays and holidays
10 am to 8 pm (Sun & Mon)
10 am to 10 pm (Wed-Sat)

As an extra prize, when I came out of the exhibit, the mounted police were packing up for the day.  Two sleek chestnut horses had been divested of their saddles and were waiting patiently for their carriage back to the stables (which are near the Bastille).  Their patience is notorious because along the Champs-Elysées drivers are also notorious for their speed and their... impatience.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood: Jacky Gaudin

There used to be lots of butcher shops in my neighborhood.  Why, there were four on the block where I used to live - if you walked around all four sides - including a boucherie chevaline, which is a butcher who sells only horsemeat.  (I know, it sounds barbaric, but it tastes like a steak, only sweeter, and I only ever ate one.  You can hardly find them anymore, although you do still see the old gilded horsehead over a few shop doors that now sell clothes or jewelry or other inedible objects.)
  Today butcher shops are fewer and farther between.  The main blame can be put squarely on supermarkets.  Even the food-picky French like one-stop shopping, and they seem to be willing to settle for lesser quality nowadays... especially if it’s offset by a lower price.
  I myself go to my local mini-supermarket for the staples:  sugar, flour, napkins, juice...  But not for my meat.  I guess I’m just a stickler for taste and freshness.
  On the rue Lepic, my former butcher - Monsieur Bénard - is long gone, even though his sign is still there over the window of the food specialties shop where now you can buy as little as 10 grams of cumin seed, weighed out into a miniature cellophane sachet.  Farther down rue Lepic there’s a rotisserie specializing in poultry.  And then there’s the little lady who sells products from the Auvergne region, but she limits herself to boudin (blood sausage) and cold cuts.  The only real butcher on rue Lepic is a franchise outlet of Boucherie Roger with low prices and equally low quality.
  Rue Lepic runs downhill from the once-food-resplendent rue des Abbesses, but now there’s only one butcher left on its entire length.  And that’s Jacky Gaudin, the self-proclaimed (and rightly so) roi des bouchers de Montmartre - the king of Montmartre’s butchers
Gaudin bought his shop from another butcher, who had in turn bought it from another butcher... and the lineage runs all the way back to when the building was built around 1870 or so.  He’s been there for 18 years now.
  But Montmartre wasn’t always his home.  Gaudin moved to Paris from the Maine-et-Loire region well to the south, where he started his two-year apprenticeship at age 15.  When he earned his knives, he moved to the resort town of La Baule on the Atlantic coast and later on to Paris.  He explains that in those days you were told you absolutely had to go to the capital to learn all the different cuts of meat, but adds that that’s no longer the case.
  So to Paris he came.  And of all the shops on the market that he could have bought, this one on the sunny side of the rue des Abbesses in Montmartre looked like it was the best location.  The most promising.  And judging by the line outside his door, he made the right choice.

Of course, the quality of his goods and services has a lot to do with that.  And the accueil as well - the welcome you get when you cross his doorstep.  Take Marguerite for instance, one of his first-name-basis regulars who has just bought quite a lot of meat.  When she pays her 30€ bill all in coins, the staff teases, “You’ve been singing on street corners again.”
Still, no amount of joviality can make up for bad service or tough meat.  And you’ll find neither here.  Service is quick and professional, yet friendly.  When I ask how many people work there, Jacky looks around, counts on his fingers and says “seven”.  “Including you?” I ask.  “Eight and nine,” he corrects, with a smile, “with my wife and me.”  Mrs. Gaudin is behind the cash register every morning, the traditional position of trust in any French family business.   There’s another lady who takes over in the afternoons, and the rest of the staff are butchers, both young and old.  They can answer any meat-cooking question you throw at them, and even offer meal suggestions.
  As for the goods, the meat is delivered on a daily basis.  Which isn’t surprising, given the number of different products on offer.  And as for the beef, well you can see a photo of it while it was still a cow - it’s right there on the wall, along with its ID number and the name and address of the farmer who raised the animal, the date of its demise, and even a copy of the “livestock passport” delivered by a state veterinarian to show it was free from disease.   The French seem to have adopted the old Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify”.
  And part of the trust comes from the fact that much of the work is done before your very eyes.  While I wait in line, Jacky takes a huge long roast of beef, cuts off the amount the lady needs for her eight guests, lovingly swathes it in barde (strips of fat) to keep it moist during roasting and ties the whole thing up like a Christmas package.  Deeming it too heavy for his customer, he even comes around the counter and places it gingerly in her shopping caddy himself.  Try to get that at a supermarket!  Quite a show, and proof of his title: “king of Montmartre butchers”.
  But his talents don’t end there.  Gaudin makes all the sausages himself.  The various pâtés come from an artisan he’s known for ages.  And there’s a wide selection of cold cuts from different places:  viande des grisons (air-dried beef) from Switzerland, lonzo (dry-cured pork fillet) from Corsica, Spanish chorizo and Danish salami, as well as Canadian-style bacon ready to fry up.
  If you don’t feel much like cooking, Gaudin also prepares veal scallops milanaise (breaded) as well as veal cordon bleu, which is a thin scallop topped with a slice of ham and another of Swiss cheese, then folded over and breaded.  All you need to do with either is brown them in a little butter and you’re all set.  Perfect for a busy day.
  Aside from all the different meats, you’ll also find accessories such as cooked sauerkraut (so you don’t have to spend hours and stink up the house), grated carrot salad, céleri remoulade (grated celery root with a zesty mayonnaise-y sauce) or taboule.  And don’t forget to pick up a half dozen tiny quail’s eggs; he has those, too!
  I asked Jacky what he would have liked to be, if he hadn’t become a butcher.  His immediate answer:  “A blacksmith.”  He would have liked to work with farm equipment.  After all, his roots are in the countryside.
  But I’m glad he changed his mind and moved to my neighborhood.

Jacky Gaudin
50 rue des Abbesses
75018 - Paris

Tuesday - Saturday 7 am to 1 pm & 3:30 to 8 pm
Sunday - 7 am to 1 pm